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Laning (Wednesday, 2011 March 16)

March 18th, 2011

Here is a recorded session of me trying to learn patois via French. It is taken with Pegap Anatole, colloquially referred to as "Pa-Na", who is a surveillant at the lycée. It is about 32 minutes long. I recorded it on the inbuilt mike on my D2 (personal music player), so it is very quiet and somewhat noisy. I amplified it but parts are still very quiet, and when I amplify it more it starts clipping badly.

I’m not gonna try to transcribe the whole thing — but you’re welcome to if you like. Here’s some liner notes.

  • 00:00-01:58: A student is here to justify her absence. She’s spent the entire fourth sequence in the hospital. She’s in one of my classes so I have to correct the grade I already wrote in her bulletin. Pa-Na asks why she took so long to justify her absence, and she replies "Je devait sortir de l’hôpital pour venir ici faire quoi?" ("I had to leave the hospital to come here and do what?")
  • 01:58-03:56: Pa-Na asks me about how I spent my weekend. You can probably catch the word "week-end", which is borrowed into French and also patois. ("Because weekend, we don’t have that word in patois," Pa-Na says.) I went to le carrefour, one of the other landmarks in this village. He went to Bafoussam. These sentences start with pronouns: "Nge" is I, present tense. "Ou" is you, present tense. "Nke" is I, past tense. "Ou ke" is you, past tense.
  • 03:56-05:47: Pa-Na shoos some students from trying to distract us. He receives a phone call? I consult my notes. Mostly silent. I probably should have edited this out.
  • 05:47-07:30: We discuss how to ask/give names. A word-for-word gloss of the phrase is something like "Name his who is it?" "Eh", falling tone, is patois for "yes". "Ngang", rising tone, is patois for "no". "Oo you, non?" means "You understand, right?" and the response is "Nge you", "I understand". M. Teukeu, probably my favorite person at the lycée, walks in around 7:20, and I try to form a sentence saying what his name is.
  • 07:30-08:00: I try to address M. Teukeu in patois, and he responds with something I have never heard before (shot down). Apparently it is yet another way of saying "I’m fine".
  • 08:00-08:30: M. Teukeu wants to know if there are patois and maternal languages "chez vous", in your house, meaning in the States. I try to explain that the answer is no, but that immigrants bring their languages with them.
  • 08:30-11:10: Pa-Na is walking me through the conjugations of "Name his who is it" for each form: me, you, him/her, etc. Some higher-level students walk in and laugh at me, but we soldier on. 09:07: "Po suku", "élève", "student", from "po" meaning child, and "su-ku", school. (Aside: patois have these linguistic relics adopted from English, despite their current French context. Timothy has mentioned this about his patois too. I don’t know why.) Pa-Na gives the name of each student. 09:16: "Yiy", to see. Pa-Na is pointing at a name embroidered on a student’s uniform. ("You", to understand, comes from the verb to hear.) 09:54: "Ze zi", he sure sounds like he’s emphasizing low tone, high tone. Tonal language or just an intonation? 10:43: "Di suku", classroom, from "di", room, and "suku", school. 11:00: "Ze zap", "ze", name, and "zap" the possessive for "they", which is "wap".
  • 11:10-12:00: I ask the students if they wanted to see Pa-Na or what, and they deal with whatever while I review my notes. Pa-Na wants them to come back during "the grand pause", the half-hour break from classes.
  • 12:00-17:30: More random crap. 12:00: Using the verb "kie", to read, in sentences. "Mwa anye" can mean a book or a letter. 12:30: "My mother sent me a letter." 13:10: "Tcha", to send. 13:22: A complicated sentence: "She told me to greet the students." 13:35: Pa-Na gets snippy with me; "Écris!" "Write!" 14:05: "Tcha eze", to greet. I cannot tell, listening back, whether it is the same "tcha" or a tonal difference? 15:00: "Mbem tcha zu", "I also greet you". "Zu" here definitely relates to "ou", since it changed from "tcha ze" to "tcha zu". 15:28: Pa-Na pulls out an analogy in English: if someone says Good morning, you also say Good morning. I respond "Yes". 16:00: Pa-Na admits that "ze" changed to "zu", to mean "you". "Tcha ze" is like an infinitive. It sounds like he’s saying "zu" is a compound of "ze" + "ou". 16:30: I try to apply what I know productively to form "Nge tcha zi", I greet him. I sound very pleased. 16:50: Patois for "I greet you, ho!" "Tcha ze wei", from "tcha ze" and "wei", you-pl. 17:12: "Mbo!", at the end, is just an exclamation.
  • 17:30-19:25: I ask whether patois has the idea of using you-plural to show respect, as in French. It does not. 18:18: "Ngang!" Pa-Na explains you can show respect by starting with "Mr. Principal". 18:47: Pa-Na translates "ou tcha za" as "you greeted me", in the past tense, despite the fact that I wrote up above that "ou" is present. He then walks through the possible conjugations: greeted him, greeted us, greeted them, etc.
  • 19:25-19:50: Pa-Na shoos some kids away. They are too little to be his department; the other surveillant takes care of the younger kids. I review my notes.
  • 19:50-19:58: I am trying to formulate a question: which constructions take "mbem", meaning me, versus which constructions take "za", also meaning me.
  • 19:58-24:05: Pa-Na says hi to a lady passing outside the window. Then, J-C walks in and they begin speaking patois. You can get a sense of what’s going on: 20:23: "argent", money. 20:48: "vignt mille", twenty thousand. 22:08: "C’est elle qui a commencé!" "It’s her who started!" 22:53: "Ça coute cher, ça coute cher." "It’s expensive, it’s expensive." 23:04: J-C addresses me, first I think a half-question in patois (which I couldn’t catch at all) and then immediately in French, "Did you understand what was said? Were you able to trap little bits and pieces?" Pa-Na repeats the full question in patois, and tells me that I’m able to already translate it. I’m completely overwhelmed, and Pa-Na gets a little frustrated. J-C parts or has already left. 23:45: Another student tries to bother Pa-Na, but he refuses to deal with her: "We’re busy."
  • 24:05-25:30: I reform my question: why "mbem" in one case, and "za" in the other? 25:17: Pa-Na finally understands the two cases I’m trying to contrast, and says, unhelpfully, "It depends on what you want to say." 25:25: Another student. "We are busy. Way!" ("Way!" is like an exclamation of annoyance, not always directed at the annoyant.)
  • 25:30-32:03: The German teacher walks in, we exchange salutations in patois, and tells me that I am already very good at patois. This motherfucker speaks English, French, German, patois, and probably something else that I don’t even know about, so it’s kind of like he’s humoring me. I try to express that Pa-Na just scolded me for not understanding what J-C said, which prompts us to study the phrase that he used for pretty much the rest of the lesson. 26:30: J-C wants to know what time the next hour starts. 27:00: Turns out that "you", to understand, has become "jou", in what J-C said. 27:13: Also, "mbe" is like a question word, "did you". 27:30: Also, the verb for to speak has changed from what I will write as "rhom" to something like "ngom". 27:50: The last syllable, "ai", may be part of the verb "ngom-ai", or it may be "a question mark", as Pa-Na says. 28:12: "jou" is apparently used in imperatives as well as questions, and you cannot use "you". 29:50: It sounds like "ngom-a" may actually be the verb to speak? 30:50: And it’s necessary to change both verbs when asking this question. So it wasn’t strictly speaking possible for me to translate the question at first.

So, yeah, patois. An eternal struggle. But probably the most fascinating thing going on here.

Uploaded: lesson-20110314.mp3 (MPEG ADTS, layer III, v1, 128 kbps, 44.1 kHz, Monaural, 29.0 MiB)


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